PRAYING THE MASS ‘AD ORIENTEM’
(adapted excerpt, see source below)
1. Why does the priest not face the people for most of the Ordinariate Mass? The priest offers Mass facing the same direction as the people, because he and the people together are offering worship and sacrifice to God. He is not turning his back on the people to exclude them. Rather, as a Christian community, are all facing ad orientem (i.e. toward the east) waiting in joyful expectation for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ who will return to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire (Rite of Baptism, 1962). What in the early Church determined the position of the altar was that it faced Eastward. To quote St. Augustine: "When we rise to pray, we turn East, where heaven begins. And we do this not because God is there, as if He had moved away from the other directions on earth..., but rather to help us remember to turn our mind towards a higher order, that is, to God." This quotation shows that the Christians of those early days, after listening to the homily, would rise for the prayer which followed, and turn towards the East. St. Augustine always refers to this turning to the East in prayer at the end of his homilies, using a set formula, Conversi ad Dominum ("turn to face the Lord"). 2. Why does the priest not face the people in the celebration of the Ordinariate Mass? Because he is offering the Mass in Christ's name and in His Person, in persona Christi, to God the Father and is leading his people in adoration and worship. He is facing east, the rising sun, which is symbolic of the 'New Jerusalem' and he is leading his flock as the Good Shepherd does. When he needs to address the congregation he turns to face the people and says, for example, “The Lord be with you” or “Pray, brethren...” 3. Does this mean that the people do not participate in the Rite of Mass? Catholics should have a sincere, intense, interior participation in the Mass, raising their minds and hearts to God, uniting themselves with the priest offering the Divine Victim at the altar and offering themselves in unison with Him. Following the words and actions in a Latin-English hand-missal greatly helps one in understanding and appreciating the beauty of the Ordinariate Mass. Singing at Mass, making the Sign of the Cross, kneeling and other physical forms of participation are important to our worship, because God gave us body, made in His image and likeness, so that we might worship Him in our bodies. But the ultimate participation is achieved in the spiritual participation of the Mass, which finds its culmination in the worthy reception of Holy Communion. [Source] Adapted from Sancta Missa, tutorial on the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. Although the Ordinariate priests regularly celebrate Mass "ad orientem" more and more priests who celebrate the Ordinary Rite of Mass are discovering the truth of Cardinal Sarah's recent invitation and have returned to the practice of celebrating the Holy Mass facing the liturgical East.
When we come to Mass, priest or parishioners, we are all looking together for God’s presence. In the "ad orientem" celebration, when Christ comes down upon the altar at the consecration, we are all focused on Him. His presence commands our attention. The priest, as it were, disappears from view and then continues the prayers of the Mass in preparation for then turning to the congregation to offer first the Lord’s peace, and then to show the Eucharistic Lord to his people in preparation for the Lord to feed his flock with the gift of Himself through the hands of his priest. [Source]
Of course those priests who celebrate the traditional Latin Mass, i.e. the Extraordinary Rite of Mass, always face liturgical East.
Fr. James Tilley, parish priest at Church of the Good Shepherd, celebrating ad orientem at a Sung Mass